As a little girl, while at my mother’s softball games or watching the Red Sox on TV with my late stepfather, Kenny, I learned to love the game of baseball. There’s just something about the hum of the crowd, the shouts of the ump, the crack of the bat on a hot summer night. Even through the television, I can practically smell the peanuts and hot dogs.
I know it’s a slow game. Some might say baseball’s nothing but a bunch of waiting, staring, spitting, crotch-grabbing and dirt kicking punctuated by short bursts of “real” action. I disagree. Actor Dennis Leary once compared baseball to Shakespeare. I get that because for the keen observer, baseball is more like a three act play than a game. Baseball tells a story.
I remember the day I realized what it means to be a Red Sox fan. I was about six years old, running around on the playground at school and some kid kept teasing me about the Sox. (Pretty sure he was a Yankees fan.) As I grabbed the ladder to the slide, I thought, Why? Why do I have to be a Red Sox fan? …like someone had thrust the identity upon me. Sports allegiances are a little like religion. At first you’re born into it and then, just as with your faith, there comes a day when you have to choose for yourself.
That was my day. I don’t have to be a Red Sox fan, I thought. And for a split second I imagined what life might be like as a Yankees fan. (Cut me some slack, I was six). For some reason, I couldn’t make the switch. As I climbed step by step up the ladder, I knew that I would forever be a Red Sox fan. Was it allegiance to my family? My stubborn personality? My dedication to underdogs the world over? I don’t know, but standing there atop the metal slide looking out over the playground, I decided I would stick around for the ride. Then I jumped onto my bottom and smiled all the way down.
Many years and just as many lost opportunities later, in 2004, I found myself watching the Red Sox throw it away to the Yankees…again. I felt so dejected I actually refused to watch game 4 of the ALCS. That is until my brother woke me in the middle of the night with a phone call.
“Hey, turn on the game,” he said. “They just might come back and win it.”
And they did. Well, at least they didn’t sweep us, I grumbled before falling back to sleep.
The next morning, I was folding laundry when the phone rang. I heard my stepfather on the other end. “Are you sitting down?” he asked.
“Um…well, I am now,” I said as I sat down on a kitchen bar stool, bracing for bad news. “Why? What’s up?”
“Want to go to the game tonight?”
“Wh..wh..what?” I stammered.
“I got a guy here at work – he just offered me two tickets to tonight’s game. Do you and Doug want to go?”
Do I want to go to the GAME? Game 5 of the ALCS? Against the Yankees? Pedro Martinez pitching? Probably the last game of the season? How? What?
“Y-Yes. Yes. Of course, yes!”
Sure, they would probably lose, but you just don’t say no to something like this, right?!
The next couple hours consisted of a frantic series of phone calls to my husband (Get your butt home!), my in-laws (Can you please, please, please watch the kids?), my brother (Can I borrow your cell phone? And by the way, sorry you have to work and I got the tickets instead…sort of.) And before we knew it, Doug and I were standing in the bleachers at Fenway Park watching Pedro Martinez strike out Derek Jeter. Somebody pinch me.
I can hardly begin to describe the anxiety levels at Fenway. The game lasted 14 innings and nearly six hours. Not to mention, all sorts of crazy things were happening on the field…like Big Papi trying to steal second base and starting pitchers Wakefield, Schilling and Lowe walking across the field to the bullpen at the end of the ninth. And they stopped serving beer after the seventh inning, so you could say the tension was palpable.
From the 10th inning on, everyone stayed on their feet; we were practically jumping out of our own skin. But I spent every top half sitting down with my face buried in my knees. I couldn’t bear to watch the Yankees at bat; every pitch was torture.
And then the moment came. 5 hours and 49 minutes after the first pitch, David Ortiz batted in the game winning run, keeping the Sox alive for another day and saving us all from having to watch the Yankees party on our turf.
We were cold and tired. Our bodies ached from standing on concrete all night. I hadn’t been to the bathroom in seven hours – seven hours! – and we were screaming and high-fiving and hugging total strangers. Doug carried me around piggy-back style while we bellowed Sweet Caroline and Tessie, filling our lungs with the cold, magical Fenway air. As we pushed through the crowd on Brookline Ave., I heard some kid shouting “SOX IN SEVEN! SOX IN SEVEN!” And for the first time I began to think, maybe, just maybe….
Well, you know the rest of the story…the bloody red sock, the biggest upset in history, a party in their house, the Red October Lunar Eclipse, the longest winning streak in post season history, the sweep, the curse reversed. Redemption, sweet redemption.
For all those who never lived to see the day…Kenny…Aunt Kate… and for those who did…my grandmother… my friend Julie’s father who watched the last game with his daughter and grandson. For all the pain, heartache and disappointment. For all the years of taunting and abuse we took from Yankees fans. Could you have imagined a better win? People have tried. No one came close. Because this was magic.
When my brother came by the house a couple of hours after the Sox won the World Series, he said, “We were just getting used to the fact that they beat the Yankees and now they’ve already won the World Series.”
It was crazy, right? 86 years of disappointment and then in eight games, we’re on top of the world. One minute we were the jaded, anxiety ridden, baggage-carrying, curse-burdened, Red Sox faithful and the next we were the light-hearted, unshackled, banner waving victors.
Our new status has taken some getting used to – not the Oh no, I don’t know how to be a winner! getting used to – but the Did that really happen? getting used to. Because miraculously, all the years and generations of bitterness are gone. Completely gone. Life will never be the same again. Red Sox Nation has been redeemed.
But that’s exactly how redemption works, isn’t it? One minute you’re worthless and broken and the next, you’re bought back and restored. The shame and bitterness disappear. It’s as if you’re a new person.
The transformation of Red Sox fans from cursed to champions happened in a moment, but the process was long. There was pain, suffering, defeat, sacrifice and the shedding of blood. Redemption, by its very nature, comes at a price.
For thousands upon thousands of years, a fallen humanity waited for redemption. The process was long. There was pain, defeat, sacrifice and the shedding of blood. On that final day, Jesus suffered the agony of an eternity separated from God for each one of us. And then, just like that: Redemption. Sweet redemption.
One minute we were baggage-carrying, curse-burdened, broken, defeated children and the next we arose forgiven and transformed. The curse was broken and now, we’re new people. We’re whole.
The price was steep but Jesus paid it all. Our lives need never be the same again.